The Leatherman

The Leatherman (ca. 1839 – 1889) was a vagabond, originally from Lyon, France who was famous for his handmade leather suit of clothes and for traveling a circuit between the Connecticut and Hudson Rivers from about 1856-1889.
He lived in lean-tos, huts and caves and carried a large leather pack and in later years, he took to carrying a staff as well. From 1856 to 1882, he traveled the same route, from Canada and the Berkshire Mountains to Yonkers, New York. He usually stopped for food at the same houses. He also kept gardens along his route.
Among the towns he visited were Ridgefield, Georgetown, Redding, Danbury, Thomaston, Terryville, Bridgewater, Waterbury, New Britain, Old Saybrook, Guilford, Branford, New Haven, Stratford, Bridgeport, Trumbull, Norwalk, New Canaan, Stamford, Greenwich, Derby, Woodbridge, Naugatuck, Hamden, Southington, Wolcott. He avoided larger cities and towns, probably because he thought he might be heckled. According to historical accounts, he was once thrown into a horse trough and had liquor poured down his throat.
Although sometimes identified as Jules Bourglay, his identity remains unknown. He was born in Canada in 1839 of a French Canadian father and a Native American mother, although after his parents died he was raised by his grandfather. A copy of his photograph, mounted on a piece of cardboard, had been displayed in the Ansonia Library for years but has long since disappeared. Another photo can be found in the Derby public library. He stood 5” 7” and weighed 140 lbs.
He was dubbed the "Leatherman" because all of his clothes were handmade from discarded leather.
Living in rock shelters and "leatherman caves" as they are locally now known, he stopped at towns along his 365 mile loop once every 34 days for food and supplies.
The Connecticut Humane Society once had him arrested and hospitalized in 1888, which resulted in a diagnosis of "sane except for an emotional affliction" and release, as he had money and desired freedom.
He was said to be fluent in French but communicated mostly with grunts and gestures, rarely using his broken English. When asked of his background, he would abruptly end the conversation although he was believed to be Roman Catholic, since, when he died, among his possessions was found a French prayer book. He also declined meat on Fridays.
It is unknown how he earned money, although one store kept a record of his order: "one loaf of bread, a can of sardines, one-pound of fancy crackers, a pie, two quarts of coffee, one gill of brandy and a bottle of beer” etc. A popular figure around who was reliable in his rounds, people would have extra food ready for him, which he often ate on their doorsteps. In fact he was so popular, that when ten towns along the Leatherman's route passed ordinances exempting him from the state "tramp law" passed in 1879
In his later years, the people noticed a raw sore on his lower lip, and that his skin was cracked and oozing, probably from the blood poisoning from cancer that would eventually kill him. He used chew tobacco. Still, he refused help, even after he was arrested in order to be taken to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with the illness. He walked out of the hospital and towards the end, the cancer ate away the lower lip. His body was found in March of 1889 in his Saw Mill Woods cave near Ossining, New York.
His leather bag was found in North Bridgeport, and his ax in Woodbury.
He was buried at the Sparta Cemetery, Route 9, Scarborough, New York. His burial was paid for by an Englishman named Sampson Fisher-King Bennetts who claimed to have spent time with Jules in Nineveh, Ur and Paris. A stone marker was placed on his pauper’s grave in 1953, replacing the iron pipe that had marked it up until then.
His tombstone reads,

Jules Bourglay

Who regularly walked a 365 mile route through Westchester and Connecticut from
the Connecticut River to the Hudson living in caves in the years 1858–1889

The grave is inscribed “Jules Bourglay,” although this was later found to be fictional.
When he died, his obituaries made pages newspapers throughout the Northeast and the
name first appeared in a story published in the Waterbury Daily American on August 16, 1884, but was later retracted March 25, 26 and 27, 1889 and also in The Meriden Daily Journal, March 29, 1889.